Does road salt hurt the environment?

(WISH Photo/Drew Blair)
(WISH Photo/Drew Blair)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The 44.1 inches of snow dumped on Central Indiana this winter means a lot of salt has been dumped on city streets. But what happens when that all thaws?

Salt on the roads is literally a lifesaver for Indiana drivers. The U.S. uses 22 million tons of road salt, but it doesn’t just disappear when the snow melts. Consider all of this salt eventually flowing into rivers and streams in Central Indiana.

Scientists say road salt can kill trees, but some researchers in Maine say the acidity of the water can get so high it mimics the effects of acid rain. Researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington did a study and found it’s toxic for some species.

“That species is susceptible to mortality due to the runoff of the road salt,” said Todd Royer, associate professor at IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “It could include fish, but primarily we would be interested in insects and other invertebrates. They tend to be more sensitive to chloride than the fish. But of course, they are the food items for the fish so they are obviously related.”

One alternative is beet juice. It doesn’t melt the ice. Carbohydrates in the beet juice help prevent ice from bonding to the road to begin with.

Muncie uses beet juice, in part, because the combination of salt and sand can clog the waste water treatment plant, officials there told I-Team 8. Supporters say beet juice means less salt damaging roads, rivers and cars.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management confirms to I-Team 8 they don’t test waters for road salt runoff.

In Wisconsin, they’re spreading cheese on the roads — sort of. It’s the cheese brine, mixing the dairy waste with rock salt to cut costs and pollution. The cheese-coated streets bring concerns in the pilot program that started in December. Milwaukee officials are looking at whether a faint odor of cheese would bother residents and whether it would it attract rodents. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

  • Road Salt and the Environment | greener
  • Does road salt hurt the environment? | | A PLUS STORIES

    […] Does road salt hurt the environment? | […]

  • Road Salt Shortage Beet by Red Juice [Video]

    […] Two areas in Canada are using another beet alternative called Beet 55, which is a mix of saline and beet juice. Williams Lake, a town in British Columbia, is using the red juice as an alternative so they can cut down on using sand and salt. The town has used over 9,000 gallons of the mixture already. Kevin Goldfuss, the director of municipal services, said that they put 33.000 liters down before Christmas and that he is very pleased with the difference. The smell is better than other solutions such as cheese brine and Goldfuss says that the mixture smells sweet like a Tootsie roll. The beet juice is not only good for municipalities but also good for the environment. Road salt can damage cars, roads and destroy vegetation. The sand and salt can clog water treatment plants and damage certain species. Todd Royer, an associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said that the species is venerable to death because of the road salt runoff. Royer also said that it can affect fish but that they are more interested in invertebrate and insects. Invertebrates are more sensitive to chloride than fish. Beet juice is a safe alternative that some areas are using instead of salt or sand. Kansas is using Beet Heet to melt ice and areas in Canada are using Beet 55 to get rid of ice. The road salt is worse for the environment than the beet mixtures. It can damage roads and endanger invertebrates. The beet mixtures do not melt the ice because the carbohydrates in beets stop the ice from binding to the road. Some states use cheese brine instead of red beet juice and sugar beets.  The cheese does not freeze until it hits 21 degrees and also stops the salt from bouncing off the roads. No matter which type of beet alternative is chosen, municipalities know that beets can help by getting them past the salt shortage. By Jordan Bonte Sources: TIME ThinkProgress TreeHugger Grist WISHTV […]

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